Cinema and Revolution: A Global Perspective

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Course DatesMeeting TimesStatusInstructor(s)CRNRegistration
July 08, 2019 - July 19, 20197/08 - 7/19M-F 9A-11:30A and TWTh 1P-2:30POpenCassandra Guan

Course Description

This course is designed specifically for English Language Learners interested in further developing their English skills in a challenging college-level academic setting.

In 1922, following the conclusion of the Russian Civil War, Lenin famously told his cultural commissar Lunacharsky: “you must remember that of all the arts for us the most important is cinema.” This extraordinary pronouncement inaugurated a fabled period of experimental film production in the Soviet Union, but it is also the first of many testaments to the intimate relationship between cinema as a mass-based art form and political revolutions of the twentieth century. In this course, we will critically explore the concept of revolution in relation to a global array of filmic modes and practices, attending specifically to the forms of political representation and the textual embodiment of affect. Integrating concerns from the fields of film history, social theory, political philosophy, and media studies, the course will provide students with a structural (rather than purely historical) understanding of the aesthetic and political materials under consideration. Each class is organized around an universal figure (e.g. violence or knowledge) in relation to a historically specific and geographically localized event, designated in shorthand as a place/time (e.g. Russia, 1917 or Iran, 1979). Together, we will seek to understand the construction of revolutions as cinematic events in different parts of the world over the course of the last century, encountering along the way such critical discourses as modernism, idealism, phenomenology, Marxism, de-colonialism, feminism, psychoanalysis, and anti-humanism.

I will divide the two-week long course into five learning modules, each encompassing two days that will be structured in turn according to a logic of history/topoi, which pairs a particular historical revolution with a cultural/aesthetic problem, e.g. The Russian Revolution of 1917/the representation of "masses" in art. This means we would have time during the two week period to survey five separate revolutionary events in 20th century history in relation to five over-arching questions of political aesthetics. At the moment, I can imagine the following line-up: 1) 1917 October Revolution/crowds and "mass" aesthetics; 1949 Chinese Revolution/nationalism and the "popular" in culture; 2) 1951 Cuban Revolution/decolonization and ethnicity 2) 1968 student revolt/sexuality and desire; 5) 1979 Iranian Revolution/theology and freedom. Since this is a class about films, each session will be accompanied by a film screening, which I strongly hope could take place collectively (as befitting the history of political cinema) outside of regular course hours, but if this is really not an option, then the students will be required to watch the films on their laptops before each class. I will show in addition excepts of relevant films during class to supplement the students' knowledge of film history, but the required screenings will serve as the primary basis of our discussions and assignments.

This course proposal is based on a sophomore undergraduate class that I will be teaching next semester in Spring, 2019. Naturally, I will adjust the level of instruction and course materials in response to the capacity of high school students rather than college undergraduates. In practice, this means greater emphasis on exposing the students to a wide array of historical and cultural content, as well as introducing them to college level reading and interpretive practices; in comparison to the undergraduate version of this course, the summer high school students will be assigned fewer and less difficult readings (especially primary theoretical texts), for which I will substitute instead more accessible secondary literature that would elucidate the historical, cultural, and political references covered by the course. On the other hand, the summer high school students will have more time than their undergraduate counterparts to actually watch films from a range of cultural contexts and historical periods that they would not have previously encountered. I believe this experience is highly rewarding and not to be replaced by academic reading and writing.

Students will acquire critical thinking and reading skills, as well as learn to analyze cinematic texts in writing and formulate an individuated argument. These are skills that would serve them well in all future undergraduate humanities courses. Moreover, the class will introduce students to nuanced views of 20th-century political aesthetics and history, while fostering their sensitivity to cultural differences and embolden them to creatively pursue conceptual and aesthetic strategies that challenge the normativities of mainstream culture, specifically by exposing them to alternative paradigms of political thought, artistic practice, and critical theory.

Prerequisites: high school world history (high school European history would be helpful but not necessary)
high school English (honor/AP would be ideal)

*In essence, the more history and language courses a student has taken, the easier he/she will find it to orient himself/herself in the class. A basic knowledge of world history is the only prerequisite. No prior knowledge of film history/theory is necessary.


Course Information

  • Course Code: CEMS0925
  • Length: 2 weeks

Program Information

Summer@Brown for English Language Learners

A select group of non-credit courses in the liberal arts and sciences supplemented with English language learning, two weeks long, taught on Brown’s campus. For University-bound English language learners completing grades 9-12 by June 2019.

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